Buddhism is always the religion held up as an exception to the bellicosity and oppressive nature of religion in general, and while that may be true, Buddhism by no means has a spotless history. In Myanmar (formerly Burma), for example, Buddhists have engaged in wholesale killing and displacement of the Muslim Rohingya. Such persecution also happens in Sri Lanka, and I’ve sometimes reported arrests for hurting Buddhist sentiments, as in the case of three people jailed for wearing an ad for a disco depicting Buddha wearing headphones.
Buddhists, then, occasionally play the “offense card,” and it’s pretty dire when they do. The latest incident, reported in yesterday’s New York Times, involves Klaas Haijtema, a 30-year-old Dutch tourist who, while visiting Myanmar, was staying at a Mandalay hostel near a Buddhist center. On the night of September 23, the center began broadcasting Buddhist chants over a loudspeaker, disturbing Haijtema’s sleep.
After asking the Buddhists to lower the volume (they probably didn’t understand him), he then pulled the plug on the amplifier. BIG mistake. He was arrested and sentenced to—get this—three years at hard labor for “causing a disturbance to an assembly engaged in religious worship.”
As the NYT reports:
Mr. Haijtema wept after the prison sentence was announced. He was also fined the equivalent of $80 for violating the terms of his entry visa, which require visitors to obey Myanmar’s laws and customs. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, and Mandalay is a relatively conservative city.
There are reports, however, that the Buddhist center was itself violating the law by broadcasting over a loudspeaker without a permit. Perhaps Haijtema won’t have to break rocks for three years after all.